How data and analytics is transforming healthcare: Interview with ViiV Healthcare

Natasha has worked in data, analytics and strategy for 20+ years and most recently led a virtual data and analytics transformation for ViiV Healthcare, a company of 1200 people who are solely dedicated to HIV medicines and research on people affected by HIV and AIDS and majority owned by GSK.

From personalisation advancements in the pharma industry to the skills needed to succeed today, and in the future, this is a brilliant insight into how the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry is using data and analytics to evolve.

What’s been your biggest learning curve over the last year?

I started my role almost as soon as the lockdown was announced, and one of the key parts has been to expand the team as we are on a transformation journey, particularly from an advanced analytics perspective.

The biggest challenge has been recruiting and on-boarding in the virtual environment. The team has nearly doubled in size and getting a sense of someone over video and giving them a sense of yourself and what the company stands for is more challenging. It’s meant that we’ve taken bigger leaps of faith as well as the candidate taking a leap of faith in us On the whole though it has worked out really well and I am very proud of the team I now have around me and how successfully they have on-boarded into the company.

What kind of improvement, change or growth are you trying to achieve at ViiV Healthcare?

We’re a company of 1200 people and are majority owned by GSK. We have a very strong company purpose and are solely dedicated to HIV medicines and research on people affected by HIV and AIDS.

The mission of my team is to use data, insights and analytics to get more HIV medicines to people who need them, but until about 18 months ago, our insights and analytics capabilities were fairly traditional. We weren’t fully leveraging data science or advanced analytics as a way of driving our business. The journey we’re on now involves building new capability to do just that, whilst building confidence with our key stakeholders to make more data driven decisions. You can have all the amazing technical skills in the world but if you don’t focus on how you communicate with stakeholders and drive change, you’re not going to make the desired impact on the business.

Male analysts and data scientists outnumber females 4 to 1. What advice would you give to businesses struggling to attract and retain female talent?

It’s an interesting statistic and you have to think about it on multiple levels. Many women will be attracted by strong female role models in leadership positions, so it’s important to highlight this where possible as part of the recruitment process.

Ensuring job descriptions are written in a way that is equally appealing to men and women is key as well as having a recruitment panel that is diverse.

In terms of retaining female talent, having a culture that women can thrive in as much as men is important. Having well-thought-out policies and flexibility if a women goes on maternity leave and return to work are all key factors in cultivating a culture that women can thrive in.

It’s also about investing in STEM programs for girls at school or women going to university and apprenticeships to try to build that gender diverse pipeline.

As the use of data in the pharmaceutical industry continues to evolve, how do you envisage that in terms of the skills and experience you look for in future talent?

There’s no doubt that this journey we’re on as an industry, in terms of recruiting more data and advanced analytics experts, is only going to continue. If I look across GSK, there’s a huge amount of recruitment and building of capability that’s massively grown the number of data scientists in the organisation over the last five years.

There’s an important skill set, which sometimes gets forgotten that will continue to be important in the future and that is what I call a business translator. Someone who sits between the traditional business and data scientists to ensure that the amazing work that they do is then translated into something which the business can take action on.

As we increasingly automate things like dashboard generation and data collection, I can imagine that the role of market researchers and analysts will become more and more about providing insights and really visualizing information for impact.

What has been the hardest obstacle you have encountered in your career to date?

My biggest obstacle has been myself. Having the self-belief to push myself into a new or challenging role, and then having the belief that I can do the job. As I’ve become increasingly senior, it’s been about having that confidence to challenge and interact with stakeholders and lead teams with confidence.

It’s been a journey of self-belief, that’s probably my biggest challenge. In terms of what’s helped me on that journey, I’ve been lucky to have some amazing managers along the way, particularly whilst I’ve been at GSK. As I was preparing to move into this new role, I worked with my coach on many of those things, which was phenomenally helpful. It was fun and I’d recommend it to anyone who feels a bit stuck because it really made a difference for me.

What excites you most about recent developments and the future of data in the pharmaceutical industry?

We are at an exciting stage because the kind of transformation other industries have been through around customer personalisation is just starting to happen in pharma and healthcare.

The Netflix model doesn’t apply to pharma, but we do use data and analytics to understand a customer’s previous behaviour and then use that to personalise our interactions. We’re now starting to build the analytics capabilities to be able to do that.

Many companies are embarking on that journey and the need for it has been accelerated over the last year. Customers are bombarded with emails, so it becomes much harder to engage with them. We’ll start by tailoring our interactions with HCPs but I hope in time, we can also personalise our interactions with patients as well to make sure we’re delivering what the patients’ need.

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